A growing chorus of voices is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cut red tape so Syrian refugees can get into Canada faster.
As it became increasingly clear that this country is falling behind on its commitments for taking in migrants fleeing four years of civil war – and that they fall short of the numbers accepted by Canada in past refugee crises – some provinces said they stand ready to help settle many more refugees if the federal government would let them in.
Meanwhile, immigrant organizations laid out practical steps for tearing down the wall of bureaucracy keeping refugees out of the country.
Canada missed its initial goal of bringing 1,300 Syrian refugees here by the end of 2014, and appears on track to miss another target from earlier this year of bringing in 10,000 over four years. So far, the country has resettled only 2,374.
On Friday, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins called on the federal government to bring in 5,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.
"Let's not simply signal our concern, or that we need to do more. Let's get specific. Let's set a target, a timeline, and meet it," he said at a news conference in Toronto with Lifeline Syria, a group helping Syrian refugees come to Canada. "We are running out of time … this is the worst refugee catastrophe since World War Two."
Among other things, he said, the federal government should eliminate a requirement for people to be certified as refugees by the United Nations or another country, a process that can take years. During the 1999 war in Kosovo, when he worked as an aide to then foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, Mr. Hoskins said Canada managed to bring in 5,000 Kosovar refugees in a single month.
Mr. Hoskins said the Ontario government would help settle refugees in his province. As a start, he announced a $300,000 provincial donation to Lifeline Syria.
Mr. Harper, campaigning for re-election in Whitehorse on Friday, conceded the process for bringing in refugees has to be sped up, but offered few specifics on how this would be done.
"Look, we realize that we have to bring in more and we have to do it more effectively and quickly," he said, before touting Canada's bombing campaign against the Islamic State as another solution to the problem.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard urged Ottawa to speed things up, and said his province was willing to take in more refugees. Quebec can do "a lot better" at welcoming migrants, he said, "and it's our duty to do so." The Premier said the province has welcomed 643 Syrian refugees this year and is supposed to receive a total of 1,900 by the end of 2015.
"There were disasters in Haiti and in Indonesia and other places in the world where Quebec stepped up," Mr. Couillard told reporters at an unrelated news conference Thursday.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall made a similar pledge in a Facebook post Friday.
"We've told the federal government that Saskatchewan can and will support more refugees in our province to assist with the ongoing crisis. We're going to work closely with all levels of government on how our province can help these families in their time of need," wrote Mr. Wall.
Alexandra Kotyk of Lifeline Syria listed five specific things the government should do to make the process more efficient, including removing the requirement for Syrians to get refugee certification in another country and deploying more staff to visa offices to process applications faster.
She also called for the government to accept more refugees, pointing to the 60,000 people from Indochina that Canada accepted during the 1970s and early 1980s as a benchmark.
"We brought 60,000 and this is a much larger crisis, so I do think we need to scale up," she said.
Lifeline Syria was started this spring to organize people to sponsor 1,000 Syrians to settle in the Greater Toronto Area. But chair Ratna Omidvar said private individuals can do only so much on their own.
She called on the government to repeat the actions of previous Canadian governments to get more refugees into the country immediately.
"Without the will of the government, no amount of citizen support will actually help us get Syrian refugees to this country. In every major refugee crisis in the last century, it was political will that moved the mountains," she said. "We can do this because we have done this before."